Tablet attack on Vatican II

This week’s Tablet editorial speaks of the texts of the Second Vatican Council as a “baseline” for any interpretative application of the Council’s teaching. Like me, you may be scratching your head, since the texts are the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with the authority of the Bishops of the universal Church, confirmed and ratified by the Pope.

Later we are told that the texts are not “legal documents or unalterable Holy Writ, once-for-all and perpetually binding.” Well no, none of those things. In practical, pastoral and prudential matters, the Council’s provisions are not perpetually binding any more than Lateran IV’s instruction to Jews to wear a badge or the Council of Vienne’s mandating of the burning of homosexuals. As was pointed out by a learned friend of mine, nobody today would want to invoke the spirit of Vienne.

Nevertheless, if we are talking about the second Vatican Council, it is the texts that matter. Subsequent legislation, implementation, or interpretation is the subject of legitimate debate among canonists, theologians, sociologists or editorial writers of magazines – even bloggers if one might be so bold.

The Tablet is not too keen on some of the documents. Oddly, it singles out Inter Mirifica for scorn, describing it as “embarrassingly poor.” I find that surprising. The decree says in n.13:
All the children of the Church should join, without delay and with the greatest effort in a common work to make effective use of the media of social communication in various apostolic endeavours, as circumstances and conditions demand. They should anticipate harmful developments, especially in regions where more urgent efforts to advance morality and religion are needed.
That seems to me quite prescient for a document issued in 1962 when the popular use of the internet was still some years away. For my money, Gaudium et Spes would be up there in the embarrassing stakes but that is probably more because of its execrable Latin (De Urgentioribus Quibusdam Problemationibus is actually the heading of the Pars Secunda.)

The Tablet dives into the question of the hermeneutic of continuity, seeing the Holy Father’s 2005 address as more nuanced than the “conservative interpretation” (who can they mean?) They speak as though Pope Benedict thought that some parts of Vatican II had more continuity and others more reform. It is impossible to read the Holy Father’s address honestly in such terms. He was referring to the Council as a whole and proposing that all of it should be understood in terms of a hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.

He said that the hermeneutic of rupture caused confusion, yet the Tablet insists that some parts of the Council have no continuity whatsoever – particularly Nostra Aetate which “flatly contradicts Pope Pius IX’s encyclical known as the Syllabus of Errors.” The writer probably meant the encyclical Quanta Cura (the Syllabus of Errors was not an encyclical but a curial document issued the same day) but we can let that pass. The Tablet entirely ignores the lively debate among theologians over whether Nostra Aetate was indeed a contradiction of Quanta Cura. In our own country, the distinguished philosopher, Professor Tom Pink of Kings College has exchanged papers in response to Fr Ronheimer on this question.

This failure to address a significant debate of our own time on precisely the subject of continuity and rupture on which the Tablet is lecturing its readers does lead one to wonder how much they are interested in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Council itself and whether the real concern is simply to continue to propose an understanding of the Church which has plagued the journal since soixante huit and Humanae Vitae. They even get the slogans wrong: aggiornamento means "bringing up to date" not "opening to the world." (In fact, when Blessed Pope John XXIII announced the council in 1959, his celebrated use of the word aggiornamento referred to updating the code of canon law.)

The editorial’s peroration reads as follows:
If a return to the texts leads the Church to rediscover that vision and resolve to make it come alive at last, a new and exciting chapter may be about to be written. The Church will be set in motion again. But the forces of anti-conciliar reaction have not yet been defeated. They did not like the council then and they do not like it now, and they will do everything they can to frustrate it.
In fact, a return to the texts of the Council will reveal to many younger people that the Council was not what the Tablet and others have pretended. It is full of sober orthodox teaching entirely in continuity with the tradition of the Church which has over the years been obscured by the mythical construction of a non-existent version of Vatican II.

In response to a new generation discovering what the Council actually taught, the Tablet may indeed join the SSPX in rejecting some of the texts. Pope Benedict XVI insists on them – but only if understood in terms of reform and renewal in continuity with the one subject-Church. As he said, the Fathers of the Council had no mandate to construct a new constitution for the Church, nor could they have, since the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life. The Tablet has no such mandate either.

See also:
Fr Z: The Tablet’s latest cowardly editorial
Protect the Pope: The Tablet misrepresents ‘the hermeneutic of continuity’ to make case for hermeneutic of rupture
Offerimus tibi Domine: Hermeneutic of continuity

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